How virtual school educators provide accessibility, accountability and adaptability. The cornerstones of Connections Academy’s approach to online learning. virtual school, online teaching, online homeschooling, virtual school educators, online learning

Bringing My "A Game" as a Virtual School Educator

By: Peggy Barnholt

I recently had the honor of sharing my experience as an online elementary school teacher with the Colorado State Board of Education, having been named 2010 Online Elementary Teacher of the Year by the Colorado Department of Education! My presentation was designed to provide insight into how, as a virtual school educator, I bring my “A Game” for my students every day.

Peggy Barnholt Online Elementary Teacher of the Year Winner

As a veteran teacher with more than 30 years of experience in various educational settings, primarily large school classrooms, I never expected to create such a bond with my “virtual students.” Teaching at a virtual school has actually enabled me to form closer relationships with my students and their parents than at any other school. I have the opportunity to speak with my students one on one, without interruptions. I conduct LiveLesson® online class sessions where I am able to directly connect with my students, enabling me to get to know their individual needs and adapt lessons accordingly. This virtual environment also gives the students a sense of freedom to express themselves without fear of rejection, or exposure to mocking from their fellow students. In short, it’s a terrific learning environment.

So, how do I bring my “A Game” for my students? In the words of one of my favorite authors, Dr. Seuss, “Big A, little A, what begins with A?” Accessibility. Accountability. Adaptability. All begin with A, and all are the cornerstones of Connections Academy’s approach to online learning.

Virtual schools are ACCESSIBLE. At Connections Academy, we build the learning experience around the student. The online environment provides accessibility for students who, for a variety of reasons, thrive outside the traditional classroom. For example, our virtual school offers a top quality education and vibrant community for students who may be homebound for medical reasons. Because students can access online learning from anywhere and at anytime, we provide a constant in what may be a very complicated time for the student and his or her family. Classmates connect online during class and through clubs and activities and teachers may be reached on the phone and via email when the student has questions. Connections Academy, like many online schools in Colorado, can accept students from anywhere in the state. We serve students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, at all levels of ability.

Virtual schools are ACCOUNTABLE. At Connections Academy, I am fortunate to work with an outstanding group of highly-qualified, state-certified teachers. Our curriculum meets all of Colorado’s state standards and our students participate in assessments and state testing. While traditional schools provide feedback through periodic report cards and parent conferences twice a year, at Connections Academy, we provide constant feedback with detailed reports and discussions that go beyond simple letter grades to thorough examinations that accurately gauge student performance and progress. Connections Academy teachers confer regularly with students, as often as needed. We use a variety of tools to track student progress and comply with public school testing requirements including: online and offline assessments, parent interviews to help place students at start of the year, and regular follow up evaluations throughout the year.

Virtual schools are ADAPTABLE. Students learn best when lessons match their interests and abilities. Studies have shown that in conventional classrooms many instructional tasks are not matched to students’ skill levels. At Connections Academy, we help each student maximize his or her potential and meet the highest performance standards through a uniquely individualized learning program. At Connections Academy, each student receives individualized instruction, including lessons tailored to that student’s academic strengths and weaknesses. This is our Personalized Performance Learning® (PPL) approach—a dynamic process through which we evaluate each student's strengths and needs. We then develop individual approaches that work for the student along with our curriculum—all year long.

Virtual schooling isn’t for everyone, but it is beneficial for students who, for a number of reasons, learn better outside of the traditional classroom setting but still can benefit from the resources a public school provides – such as state-certified teachers, textbooks, lesson plans and opportunities for peer interaction and community involvement. Virtual schools also are excellent for students whose talents and interests could not be nurtured as well following regular classroom hours.

People often refer to online learning as the wave of the future, and I am really enjoying the ride. I feel like I am making a difference and connecting with my students in ways that I never knew were possible. And it inspires me to bring my “A Game” to school every day.